Currently on my shelves (both physical and audio) I have two books by Bridget Collins. The Binding and the Betrayals. I’ve heard a lot about Bridget Collins and after seeing the gorgeous front covers (yes I judged them, I said it), I’ve opted to start with the audiobook of the Betrayals.
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At Montverre, an exclusive academy tucked away in the mountains, the best and brightest are trained for excellence in the grand jeu: an arcane and mysterious contest. Léo Martin was once a student there, but lost his passion for the grand jeu following a violent tragedy. Now he returns in disgrace, exiled to his old place of learning with his political career in tatters.
Montverre has changed since he studied there, even allowing a woman, Claire Dryden, to serve in the grand jeu’s highest office of Magister Ludi. When Léo first sees Claire he senses an odd connection with her, though he’s sure they have never met before.
Both Léo and Claire have built their lives on lies. And as the legendary Midsummer Game, the climax of the year, draws closer, secrets are whispering in the walls…
“Sometimes I wonder whether any of us tells the truth about anything.”– The BETRAYals, Bridget Collins
Set in a high society landscape, we follow three different storylines; the Rat, Clare Dryden or Magister Ludi and two perspectives of our main protagonist Léo Martin, as his younger and his older self. This story passes through time by moving back and forth between the years of Léo as a student and as the, now disgraced, Minister for Culture. After a scandal within the government, Léo is forced back to Montverre, his former school, to continue his studies.
Montverre prides itself on the grand jeu. A game which students study endlessly to understand. The Betrayals is heavily based on “The Glass Bead Game” by Hermann Hesse. I haven’t read the Glass Bead Game nor do I know anything about it so I was hoping that the grand jeu would be explained. However, you never really get an explanation other than it is quite a complicated game; a mix between maths and music, religion and all of life thrown in. The aim of the grand jeu is that students learn to weave the most intricate version to compete against one another. As you only understand this in such an abstract fashion, it was all a tad murky and I was lost and confused at times. This unfortunately, meant that the world building was lacking and I was left with an idea of the grand jeu but no way of explaining it.
Bridget Collins does write with a particularly descriptive style which I typically like. Montverre has been crafted as a typical high society school. Think Eton or Harvard with its face of prestige and finery yet cloaked in mystery and something that is just not quite attainable. This has been built upon with the characters. The character development on the whole was good with some very complicated relationships. Léo is bisexual which was a great surprise. LGBTQ+ representation is lacking on the whole, particularly within the fantasy genre, so to have this character development play out was a plus. There are plenty of side characters and you may find some quite heartwarming; however, with the nature of Montverre, they are mostly arrogant and laced with political and family snobbery; ultimately they are all quite dislikeable.
The plot for the Betrayals is quite complex and has a lot of promise. Bridget Collins does a great job at keeping you guessing throughout. Each chapter layers in a new turn and another question. The beginning of Clare Dryden’s storyline was interesting. The first female Magister Ludi to have been appointed yet but you aren’t given much further background on this until much later in the story. Collins describes a complex relationship between Léo and Clare which, through Clare’s storyline, didn’t give much away. It is only as the present and past storylines from Léo come together, does this begin to unfold.
Yes this book is about betrayal, but at its core it is a romance. Not a typical romance but one that will challenge and confuse you. I did find the use of a bipolar character and suicide to base this romance on a little extreme and to be honest, unnecessary. It felt that Collins is aiming for the shock factor in hopes this torrid love affair would fill you with a warm fuzzy feeling but instead left me feeling like she missed the target. This story is left open, so if you are one for closure, I would suggest opting for something else. I enjoyed the threads of this book, particularly the initial storyline with Rat; however, I was left wanting more substance overall.
I was quite undecided about this book and for all the cons, it was very well written and I did enjoy the premise of it. So I’ve given it a 3 star rating.
Rating: ★★★/5 stars
As always, happy reading.